- Paperback: 352 pages
- Publisher: Basic Books; Rev Exp edition (November 1, 2011)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0465025579
- ISBN-13: 978-0465025572
- Product Dimensions: 5.6 x 0.8 x 8.3 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
- Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars See all reviews (158 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #225,024 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education Rev Exp Edition
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Howard Gardner, Hobbs Professor of Cognition and Education, Harvard Graduate School of Education
Diane Ravitch is the rarest of scholarsone who reports her findings and conclusions, even when they go against conventional wisdom and even when they counter her earlier, publicly espoused positions. A must' read for all who truly care about American education.”
Linda Darling-Hammond, Charles E. Ducommon Professor of Education, Stanford University, and Founding Executive Director, National Commission for Teaching & America's Future
Diane Ravitch is one of the most important public intellectuals of our time. In this powerful and deftly written book, she takes on the big issues of American education today, fearlessly articulating both the central importance of strong public education and the central elements for strengthening our schools. Anyone who cares about public education should read this book.”
Public education is a tough enterprise. It won't be fixed overnight. But if we stick with a back to basics approach, saturated with the solid American democratic values that Ms. Ravitch advocates, we won't be so prone to fall for the silver bullets that never seem to find their mark.”
Los Angeles Times
The Death and Life of the Great American School System may yet inspire a lot of high-level rethinking.”
Valerie Strauss, Washington Post
Her credibility with conservatives is exactly why it would be particularly instructive for everyone--whether you have kids in school or not--to read The Death and Life of the Great American School System.”
For readers on all sides of the school-reform debate, this is a very important book.”
Library Journal, starred
[A]n important and highly readable examination of the educational system, how it fails to prepare students for life after graduation, and how we can put it back on track Anyone interested in education should definitely read this accessible, riveting book.”
E. D. Hirsch, Jr., author of Cultural Literacy, The Schools We Need, and The Making of Americans
No citizen can afford to ignore this brave book by our premier historian of education. Diane Ravitch shines a bright, corrective light on the exaggerated claims of school reformers on both the left and the right, and offers an utterly convincing case for abandoning quick fixes in favor of nurturing the minds and hearts of our students from the earliest years with enabling knowledge and values.”
New York Times
Ms. Ravitch writes with enormous authority and common sense.”
In an age when almost everybody has an opinion about schools, Ravitch's name must be somewhere near the top of the Rolodex of every serious education journalist in this country.”
Wall Street Journal
Ms. Ravitch [is] the country's soberest, most history-minded education expert.”
Christian Science Monitor
Ravitch's hopeful vision is of a national curriculum she's had enough of fly-by-night methods and unchallenging requirements. She's impatient with education that is not personally transformative. She believes there is experience and knowledge of art, literature, history, science, and math that every public school graduate should have.”
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Top Customer Reviews
Near the end of this powerful book, Diane Ravitch, one of the premier educational historians of our time, makes this somewhat understated observation -- "American education has a long history of infatuation with fads and ill-considered ideas" -- and asks the question "Who will stand up to the tycoons and politicians and tell them so?" Ravitch may mean this as a rhetorical question, but the answer is obvious: Diane Ravitch will stand up to them. And that is what she does in this magnificent book.
Because our country has not had the stomach to thrash out WHAT should be taught in our schools -- to work our way through to a basic curriculum -- the focus of reform has been on the HOW: on high-stakes testing of limited basic skills, on accountability and results without understanding of what those results signify, on school size, vouchers, school choice, on "blueprints" for improvement informed by fads like "balanced literacy" or "whole language." Such focus on form over content leads to cynicism and gaming the system to achieve mandated results, however unrealistic, to teaching to the test, and to the micro-management of education professionals by outsiders qualified only by political office or wealth. Chapter by chapter Ravitch tells the story of one after another such fiasco. Not only do these grand plans turn into pitiful, predictable flops but, in the most tragic cases, they destroy viable community schools, both public and private (see the evisceration of a Catholic private school system that was an avenue to the middle class for generations of urban children). Both right and left are guilty, and no political party nor entrenched interest escapes Ravitch's wilting exposure.
My favorite chapter is "What Would Mrs. Ratliff Do?" We all remember the extraordinary teacher, the one whose passion turned on whole classrooms--the teachers who became the voices in our heads that set standards of logic, grammar, accuracy, integrity for all our lives. For Ravitch, one of these was her English teacher "Mrs. Ratliff." I remember Miss Jans and Miss Schultz. My children were ignited by the purple pen of the amazing Mrs. Goddard. Like Ravitch, and in the name of Mrs. Ratliff, we must all square off against educational reforms that make it harder for the wonderful idiosyncratic brilliance of the master teacher to flourish in the neighborhood school. Those schools can take only so much abuse from the arrogant do-gooders, the reformers who think they know more than the parents, the uninformed hard-liners. The virtue of this book is that it is not a "blueprint." But it should give courage to all of us who truly love our children and our schools: the courage to resist and to speak "common sense" to power.
This is one of the most important books about education currently in print. It is timely, it speaks to important issues at both a policy and practical level (though more the former than the latter), and most importantly, it is not only well thought out and well researched, it is also accessible. Too often, I’ve read education books that are clearly tiered towards researchers, towards economists, towards just teachers, or just school leaders. This is really a book that sums up the state of education (and truly, it’s a sad state of affairs) as well as how we got here (the good intentions and so on). It’s kind of short on solutions (I think), and some have claimed that it’s a little idealistic… so fine… it’s not perfect. But, it is important, well-written, and something that I think parents and educators should read to better educate themselves on our current K-12 school system.
Ravitch successfully goes through the ups and downs (mostly the latter) of several of the hot-button topics in K-12 education today. For example:
Choice — the idea that charter schools (which really started over a couple of decades ago now) can be our salvation. This is something she was originally in support of, and now shows data that charter school students, on average, seem to perform at about the same levels as public schools. (This data is somewhat controversial, as there are studies that seem to suggest support for both sides of this debate). The idea here is that if charter school students are doing as well as their counterparts in public school, that’s actually a bad thing. because charter schools, by definition, draw from the more involved parents. If parents A and B are neighbors, but parent A takes the time to learn about charter school options, enroll in lotteries, etc, that means that parent A is a more engaged parent than parent B, and thus his/her child was always more likely to succeed, regardless of the school (research is clear on that: the link between engaged/involved parents and their children’s success). Also, there is increasingly data showing that charter schools have, overall, a smaller percentage of special education and English Language Learners (this research is new, and also controversial). So then the problem Ravitch poses is this: are charters, who have fewer populations of students that require/should have more services, and who have more engaged parents merely performing as well as their public school counterparts? If so… that’s actually bad news.
She also takes turns examining the effect of billionaire philanthropists who mean well, but aren’t ultimately educated on the ins and outs of day-to-day education (for example: spending millions upon millions to split up failing schools, only to have… four smaller failing schools), and standardized testing and that whole can of worms.
It’s a wonderful, worthy read, regardless of which side of the debate you fall on.
Comparisons to Other Authors:
I’ve read a LOT of education books. A lot of the theory books are dry as dust (though some are genuinely interesting), and a lot of the policy books are slanted. While this isn’t exactly un-slanted, it does, I think, represent a little of both sides of the spectrum as Ravitch herself, as a former Assistant Secretary of Education, has seen and experienced both sides of this debate firsthand.